You have to admire Newt Gingrich. Wait… let’s review his actual accomplishments in terms of helping our country. Hold on. (One minute later…) No, turns out you don’t have to admire Newt Gingrich. And I’m not sure if we need to fear him any more. Still it’s disturbing that, after doing nothing for this country for so many years, he can still grab focus in a news cycle. But then so does a water-skiing chipmunk or an intoxicated David Hasselhof. I would position Gingrich just south of the smaller mammal.Last week Gingrich was able to add aroma to the media dome for a few hours with comments produced during an interview on FOX News, America’s source for whatever FOX News is now that the GOP is in tatters. In that interview, nuclear scientist Sean Hannity alleged that Obama’s new financial system oversight and regulation plan “moves America down the road to socialism.” Gingrich, needing to king that checker, came back with “Look, it absolutely moves it toward a political dictatorship.”As that tangy discharge settles to the bottom of Lake Republican, let’s look at a story that Newt and Sean might cite as American socialism in action.A father and son team has converted a landmark 19th-century Baltimore industrial building into a hub for community-oriented nonprofits and teacher housing. Donald A. Manekin and his son Thibault are building developers who have taken an abandoned building in Baltimore, the former Miller Tin Can plant, and converted it to low-cost housing for city public school teachers and 35,000 square feet of office space for educational non-profit organizations. Young school teachers earning school teacher salaries are quite naturally thrilled at the chance to rent a new contemporary apartment for as little as $700. Son Thibault ran a youth program in Africa and when he returned, he was interested in using the family’s real estate experience to give back to the community. Says Manekin senior: “We thought if you could have well-located, nice, funky apartments for these new young people in Baltimore, it would take the mystery out of where to live and allow them to focus on the work.” A landmark building that had become an eyesore has come back to life, and everybody worked together to make it happen. The project received more than $13 million in public money. Money came from a variety of state and federal loans and tax credits and private investors. The city of Baltimore provided a low interest loan. Manekin says the project is made possible by its inclusion of the office space, which allowed the developer to obtain $5.5 million in federal new market tax credits, which are meant to bring capital investment to low-income communities, and a $700,000 loan from the state’s Neighborhood Businessworks program.All that government help sounds a little… socially-minded. Which is not “socialism.” But if you launch that word and words like “dictatorship” into the air and people begin to hear them, then maybe you could actually slow down or stop something as sensible and righteous as low-cost housing for school teachers. I mean, this project definitely reflects a collective effort of the kind you’d engender in, oh, making health care affordable.As our new president moves decisively forward, there will plenty of opportunity for both knuckle and chowder heads to take shots, from vantage points where they are somehow not required to provide alternative programs or suggestions. Last week the Republicans did attempt to offer an alternative “budget”, which was quickly revealed to lack such details as numbers. Still, as with Newt’s “D” bomb and continuing fumble-tongue blather from Republican Deputy Whip Eric Cantor, the media feels obligated to harvest dissenting voices regardless of their usefulness or rationale. Lacking the credibility provided by numbers or arguments or ideas, the only thing truly creepy about allegations of socialism are the creeps delivering the allegations. And it’s the usual suspects; all the usual mouthpieces. Still, to dismiss the power of empty charges is to ignore the heartbreak and disruption empty charges have caused us at other times in our history. It will be wrong to compare the sad whining and intellectually pathetic histrionics of Hannity and Gingrich and Cantor to something like McCarthyism… until such time as it gels into a technically parallel situation.I’m saying, drink strong coffee and stay awake in case that gelling begins and takes on proportions similar to the classic sci-fi movie The Blob. In the original version of the film, a monster from space can do little except ingest the victims beneath its huge blobby mass. It’s not guided by much in the way of intelligence, and in selecting targets like the high school janitor it proves to have no real strategy of attack. But it does keep getting bigger and blobbier, and it continues wrapping its empty mass around things until they crush and flatten. Then local teens figure out that you can freeze the monster, so the military flies the frozen blob to a remote spot in Antarctica. That last part sounds good. “Hello, Newt? Would you be interested in a free plane ride…?”
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